Dog-day Cicada

Photo copyright Mike Lubchenko

To the attentive ear, the seasons can be recognized by the sounds of nature. From the frogs known as Spring Peepers to Great Horned owls hooting in the crisp evenings of late autumn, I eagerly await each song in its turn. In summer the insects take center stage, and I fall asleep to the lullaby of crickets and katydids.

The hot humid part of the summer known as the dog days is when we begin to hear the loud, insistent buzz of the Dog-day Cicada (Tibicen species). This is a sound that, like the bell of an ice cream truck, sends my mind straight back to childhood days.

Did I say loud? Some cicadas have been measured at 100 decibels. Although the male’s song attracts females, it also attracts predators. Cicadas are an important food source for birds and mammals–and even some groups of people.

Both cicada nymphs and adults (photo) are large and may startle you, but they don’t bite or sting. Often, the only evidence we find of the nymph is its hollow tan exoskeleton, left clinging to tree bark after it has metamorphosed into a winged adult. The Dog-day Cicadas we are hearing this year are not the same insect as 17-year periodical cicadas (and neither one is a locust), but cicada species are hard for anyone but an expert to distinguish. Dog-day cicadas take about 2-5 years to complete their life cycle. Playing an unexpected role in its community of plants and animals, the burrowing nymph helps loosen soil for better water movement.

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